The Supreme Court’s order on Friday to release all the six convicts serving life imprisonment in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case has shocked the entire nation. It was not an ordinary criminal case. The former Prime Minister of India was assassinated in a gruesome suicide bombing in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991. It was a terrorist attack against India.
Since the matter is 31 years old, I will elaborate. On 28 January 1998, the TADA court had sentenced all 26 convicts to death for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. On 11 May 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of Nalini, Sriharan, Santhan and Perarivalan and awarded death sentences to Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran. It overturned the death sentences of 19 others.
The next year, on 19 April 2000, the Tamil Nadu government recommended commutation of Nalini’s death sentence to life imprisonment, and this was approved by the governor. A week later, Sriharan, Santhan and Perarivalan submitted a mercy petition to the President. The case remained in limbo for 14 years. On 18 February 2014, the Supreme Court, citing long delays by the Center in deciding mercy pleas, commuted the death sentences of these three convicts to life imprisonment.
From 2014 to 2018, the Union Home Ministry refused to approve the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to prematurely release all seven life convicts. On May 18 this year, the Supreme Court, using its special powers, ordered the release of Perarivalan. In August this year, Nalini and Ravichandran moved the Supreme Court seeking their premature release.
In short, one by one all the convicts who were sentenced to death were commuted to life imprisonment and on Friday the Supreme Court ordered the release of all the seven convicts. He was immediately released from the jails of Tamil Nadu. Rajiv Gandhi’s killers will now roam freely in India.
This is nothing but an attack on our entire system, our judiciary and our executive. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday raises many questions.
The first question that arises is whether the Supreme Court in exercise of its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution can order the release of life convicts? The second question is whether the Centre’s order will follow in this matter or the state government’s demand will be accepted? The third question is whether the state government has the right to pardon the terrorists in a serious case like the assassination of the former prime minister? Should there be politics in such matters?
The most surprising thing is that Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had publicly said that all the killers should be forgiven. But the Congress party said on Friday that the Supreme Court’s decision was bad in law. “It was totally unacceptable, totally wrong”, and was not in keeping with the spirit of India.
Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the party disagrees with the views of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. The Congress party said it will take all legal measures to challenge the release of the convicts as the Supreme Court order raises questions about how to deal with similar claims that may arise in the future. The DMK, which has welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, is in power in Tamil Nadu. It has an alliance with the Congress, but Chief Minister MK Stalin’s government fought hard for the release of the convicts.
Now let us see what a division bench of Supreme Court Justice BR Gavai and Justice BV Nagarathna said while releasing the convicts. He referred to an earlier Supreme Court order dated May 18, 2022, in which the court had exercised special powers to release AG Perarivalan, who was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Supreme Court on Friday said six other lifers Nalini Sriharan, V Sriharan alias Murugan, Santhan alias T Suthendraraja, B Ropert Payas, Jayakumar and P Ravichandran are also in the same condition as they have spent more than 30 years in jail. Their conduct in prison was satisfactory and they all did many examinations and completed the course in prison. Citing the charitable work done by Ravichandran, the Supreme Court also noted that Nalini was a woman and that Payas and Suthendraraja were suffering from various ailments.
The court said the factors which led the Supreme Court to pass the order for Perarivalan’s release are directly applicable to other convicts. “We demand immediate release of the appellants,” the court said.
On 18 May 2022, the Supreme Court, exercising its extraordinary constitutional powers under Article 142, ordered the release of Perarivalan and it was a matter of time to release the remaining six convicts.
Fireworks went off outside Nalini’s house in Tamil Nadu on Friday as Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi protested against the Supreme Court order in Delhi. The relatives of the convicts were waiting outside the Vellore jail for the release of the convicts. People danced in joy and distributed sweets. The president of a local party TPDK distributed sweets to people on the streets of Vellore.
It is true that on March 19, 2008, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met Nalini Sriharan in Vellore Jail and later said that she had forgiven all her late father’s killers. On Friday night in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ we also showed the video of Priyanka where she is seen asking to forgive the killers.
Priyanka Gandhi said: ‘When my father was murdered, I was angry not only at the killers but at the whole world. But this anger did not last long. As you get older, the anger subsides. I have come to understand that it is not useful to always be in the victim situation, to always think of myself as a victim. When you realize that not only you, but the person in front of you is also a victim of the situation, then you have the power to forgive and your victimhood disappears.
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that the Modi government had opposed the release of the convicts and that its and the previous Congress governments had similar views. But it is also a fact that the views of the Gandhi family and the Congress Party differ on this issue. Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said the release of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers brings shame on Indian law and order. He said the Modi government did not defend the case properly. But BJP leaders said the members of the Gandhi family themselves have publicly spoken of pardoning the killers.
Rahul Gandhi also said in an interview at Cambridge University in the UK this year that he has forgiven his father’s killers. He was asked that you have been subjected to violence, your grandmother and father were murdered, what do you think about this. In response, Rahul had said, ‘All I can think of is an apology. There can be no greater pain for a son than the murder of his father, but the important lessons this incident taught me in life could not have been learned under normal circumstances.
Today for the first time we saw such a wonder where the opinion of the Congress is with the Modi government and against the Gandhi family. It’s really surprising. There should not have been two opinions in the case that those who brutally murdered the country’s former prime minister should be punished. Their terrorist designs put the whole country to shame before the world. They should get the harshest punishment. The court also decided who committed the murder, who was involved in the conspiracy. The case reached the Supreme Court. The investigation continued for years, but those sentenced to death were commuted to life imprisonment.
The first surprise came when Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi appealed to pardon Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. Surprised for the second time today, Congress spokesmen objected to the Supreme Court pardoning the killers. The third surprising thing, as I said at the beginning, is that the views of the Modi government and the Congress party are one and the views of the Gandhi family.
Until now, no one has been able to explain why Rahul and Priyanka have talked about pardoning their father’s killers. Why did Sonia Gandhi appeal to pardon her husband’s killers? She was the President of the Congress at the time Sonia Gandhi made this appeal. How can a party chairman’s opinion differ from that of his own party?
These are questions that will be difficult for Congress to answer. But one thing is sure that the pardon of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers will hurt millions of Congress workers, their sentiments will be hurt. It will be difficult for Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka to explain this to the party workers. But now it becomes a big political issue in Tamil Nadu. First of all, the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had decided to release Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. At that time, this decision could not be implemented due to the opposition of the central government.
In 2021, MK Stalin also wrote a letter to the Center for the release of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. In times to come, there will be a contest between AIADMK and DMK to take credit for the release of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. When the Supreme Court verdict came on Friday, Stalin welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had arrived in Tamil Nadu to launch several major projects.
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